Roundtable: Evaluating the Toronto Maple Leafs Coaching Change

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 21: Head coach Sheldon Keefe of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on from the bench during a game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on November 21, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The game was Keefe's first game as an NHL head coach. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - NOVEMBER 21: Head coach Sheldon Keefe of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on from the bench during a game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on November 21, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The game was Keefe's first game as an NHL head coach. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images) /
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LAVAL, QC - DECEMBER 22: Head coach of the Toronto Marlies Sheldon Keefe looks on after a victory against the Laval Rocket during the AHL game at Place Bell on December 22, 2018 in Laval, Quebec, Canada. The Toronto Marlies defeated the Laval Rocket 2-0. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
LAVAL, QC - DECEMBER 22: Head coach of the Toronto Marlies Sheldon Keefe looks on after a victory against the Laval Rocket during the AHL game at Place Bell on December 22, 2018 in Laval, Quebec, Canada. The Toronto Marlies defeated the Laval Rocket 2-0. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /

Michael Mazzei

It still feels surreal to think that the Toronto Maple Leafs actually went through with the firing of Mike Babcock and replacing him with Sheldon Keefe. I knew that changes were on the horizon given the teams recent struggles, but no one could have foreseen the swap to go down the way it did on Wednesday.

After reflecting back on Babcock’s time in Toronto, there’s no doubt he made quite an impact on the team. Transforming them from basement dwellers to playoff contenders is no easy task, and he pulled it off in strides. I’m not alone in being grateful for that, plus the foundational aspects he instilled in the organization from his hiring in 2015.

However, his tactics were going stale and it appeared there was a divide in both the locker room and with management in terms of how the roster should be implemented. For that reason alone, moving on from Babcock now was the right call for the Leafs to make. It may have been better to pursue this during the offseason (since Kyle Dubas didn’t spring forth confidence in Babcock following another early playoff exit), but it’s better that this was done now than never.

In terms of what Keefe can do with this team, the biggest change we will see is the style of play. Thursday night’s game was proof that under the new directions, the Leafs will be playing with the puck a lot more, allowing their defenceman to pinch in, and emphasizing the forwards to collapse to the slot when defending. You’ll also see a lot more sequences of the Leafs playing off the cycle and getting scoring chances down low.

Considering the success he’s had with the Marlies using tactics such as these, I don’t think the Leafs will have too much trouble adjusting to Keefe’s system. Especially with 13 players on the active roster having played under the new bench boss.

As much as the Leafs will miss Babcock’s teaching and lessons learned from the early days of the rebuild, the time was ripe for a new voice to bring the team to the next level. It’s now up to Keefe to help get the team towards their desired goal.